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Gambia: UN rights expert calls for victim-centred approach

GENEVA / BANJUL (27 November 2019) – A UN human rights expert today urged the Gambian authorities to put victims at the centre of the transitional justice process and to put all the necessary measures in place to guarantee that the crimes of the past will not recur or go unpunished.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Fabián Salvioli, welcomed the progress already achieved in the transitional justice process, which began in 2017 after 22 years of authoritarian rule, but urged the Government to make progress on the remaining aspects, including justice, reparations for victims and institutional reform.

“I urge the government to put victims at the centre of the transitional justice process and to provide survivors with urgent medical and psychosocial assistance,” Salvioli said, presenting a preliminary statement at the end of a seven-day visit to the country.

“I acknowledge the need to phase in some transitional justice measures, but it is essential that the Government gives an unequivocal sign to society of its commitment to a comprehensive and holistic transitional justice process aimed at addressing past abuses, preventing their recurrence and establishing the foundations of a strong and stable democratic society.

“This is the route to ensuring that the Gambia will never again see the abuses of the past.”

Salvioli praised the establishment of a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, Constitutional Review Commission, and National Human Rights Commission, but said important measures in several other areas were still awaited.

“It is critical to strengthen the judiciary, prosecute perpetrators, provide full reparations to victims, reform state and security institutions moulded over 22 years of authoritarianism, and recognise a common historical memory,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“These steps are critical for rebuilding confidence in the State and its institutions, and restoring trust among all members of society. They are the signs of a truly reconciled society on the path to healing, peace, and development.”

While acknowledging resource constraints and the progress made in less than three years of transition, Salvioli urged the authorities to provide equal support to all the different elements of the transitional justice process, ensuring that the least developed areas received the required attention.

During his visit, Salvioli met government officials, civil society and human rights representatives, victims and survivors, and visited sites where torture, summary executions and enforced disappearances are believed to have taken place, such as the Yudum and Kanilai barracks and the former National Intelligence Agency headquarters, including the infamous “Bambadinka” torture chamber.

"We heard harrowing testimonies of violations perpetrated in campaigns aimed at repressing dissent and terrorising the population, but most of stories we heard described the insurmountable suffering of victims, who today are affected by serious physical and mental health problems, stigma, fear and deprivation,” said Salvioli.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a full report on the visit to the Human Rights Council in 2020.

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